Germany made it a perfect 10 in World Cup qualification with a 5-1 win over Azerbaijan. A number of fringe players took their chance to impress including Leon Goretzka, whose brace included a stunning early backheel.
Germany 5-1 Azerbaijan
(Goretzka 8', 65', Wagner 54', Rüdiger 64', Can 81' - Sheydaev 34')
Different players, same old Germany. Joachim Löw used each of his 23 squad players across October’s pair of international games but the result was a familiar one, as a second string Germany pulled away from Azerbaijan on Sunday night and set a European record for goals scored in a single World Cup or Euros qualifying campaign in the process.
After Friday’s win over Northern Ireland secured their passage to Russia, coach Joachim Löw rang the changes and one of the new boys, keeper Bernd Leno, almost gifted the visitors an early goal with a poor clearance.
Order was soon restored thanks to an outrageous piece of improvisation and skill from Leon Goretzka, one of Germany’s standouts in the Confederations Cup. Following a corner, the ball dropped at the feet of the Schalke midfielder, who had his back to goal. But Goretzka chopped down on the ball to send a powerful backheel in to the top corner of the net.
Sandro Wagner then missed a gilt-edged chance as Germany began to turn the screw. If the home fans in Kaiserslauten thought that was the prelude to a stress-free night, they were soon to be disappointed. First Niklas Süle was replaced by Antonio Rüdiger following a challenge and then Ramil Sheydaev restored parity.
The 21-year-old forward raced in to the Germany half shortly before the break, leaving Shokdran Mustafi clutching his leg on the floor before twisting away from Rüdiger and firing off a shot at Leno’s near post. The Bayer Leverkusen keeper, who had looked nervy from the opening moments, should perhaps have done better as the ball crept between his arm and body.
Mustafi was then replaced by Matthias Ginter and Germany labored to the half time whistle after Leroy Sane, another fringe player looking to impress, managing to screw a presentable chance wide.
Julian Brandt was the first German to pass up an opportunity in the second period before Sane was once again wasteful. But eventually the pressure told when Wagner nodded a Brandt cross in to the ground and beyond the line, despite the best efforts of an Azerbaijani defender on the line.
Lars Stindl then tried to get in on the act, striking the post from the edge of the box before Rüdiger made things safe with a header from a corner that deflected over the line.
Goretzka added his second shortly after, tapping in from a low Sane cross before Can completed the rout with a powerful long range strike that the keeper should have saved.
The evening was far from perfect for the world champions – the defensive injuries and first half sloppiness saw to that – but it was a night as comfortable as the entire campaign has been.
As it happened:
FT Germany 5-1 Azerbaijan
It's all over. Germany have romped to victory after a shaky period in the first half when they conceded an equalizer. The loss of defenders Süle and Mustafi to injury were the negatives for Joachim Löw, but the coach will ultimately be pleased with the performance. Leon Goretzka has again made a strong claim to not only be on the plane to Russia next year, but to be in the starting XI.
85' Incidentally, that strike by Can was Germany's 43rd in this qualifying campaign, setting a new European record for the most goals scored in a Euros or World Cup qualifying campaign.
82' Off the post! The ball cannons off the post and Ginter improvises to put the rebound over the bar. Azerbaijan not going down quietly here.
81' GOAL! Germany 5-1 Azerbaijan - Emre Can smashes one in from 25 meters to put the icing on the cake. Agayev should really doen better as it was straight at him, but he was ultimately done for power.
73' Germany have hit their stride now and are starting to toy with their opponents.
69' Third and final sub for Germany as Müller makes way for Younes.
65' GOAL! Germany 4-1 Azerbaijan - Goretzka gets his second of the night and Germany are cruising. Sane finds space down the left and fires across a low cross, and Goretzka doesn't break stride as he passes the ball in from 12 yards.
64' GOAL! Germany 3-1 Azerbaijan - Rüdiger makes it comfortable for Germany with the third. The Chelsea defender leaps high to head Joshua Kimmich's corner in, via a deflection off Hüseynov.
61' Stindl pelts a shot from distance against the outside of the post.
54' GOAL! Germany 2-1 Azerbaijan - Sandro Wagner restores Germany's lead! The Hoffenheim striker heads in at the far post from Brandt's cross. After a brief check with goal-line technology, the goal is given.
52' Brandt involved again as he races down the right flank but his cross is deflected and Sane can only poke it over the bar.
48' Big save by Agayev early in the second half to Brandt, who bulldozed his way through the Azerbaijani defense and poked the ball goalwards - but Agayev got just enough on it to make the save.
46' We're back underway.
HT Germany 1-1 Azerbaijan
45' Chance for Sane at the far post, but he lashes his shot across goal and wide of the far post. Really had to score that but didn't keep his head.
43' Sane leads a breakaway for Germany and gets his heels clipped by Almeida. Very easy yellow for the Sao-Paulo-born midfielder.
40' This first half has had more talking points than we'd have expected. And it's definitely not gone to plan so far for Löw's side.
37' Things getting worse for Germany as Mustafi pulls his groin and is forced off. Ginter is on and Löw has already been forced into two substitutions.
34' GOAL! Germany 1-1 Azerbaijan - Well, well, well. Sheydaev has scored Azerbaijan's first goal in qualifying! He races through after Mustafi pulls up injured. Sheydaev still has Rüdiger for company, but the Qarabag forward turns the Chelsea defender inside out before firing a shot past Leno that the Leverkusen keeper really should save. 1-1...
30' Wagner misses a big chance to make it 2-0! A lovely move by the Germans again as Müller rolls the ball across to Wagner, but Agayev palms the ball onto the post. Wagner is then not prepared for the rebound, which bounces off him and goes wide.
27' Sane drills in a low cross towards Wagner, but the Manchester City man had just strayed offside.
24' Joachim Löw walks to the edge of his technical area to tell Leno to stop messing around with the ball in front of his own goal. Twice he's now put his team under pressure with poor touches and then making a meal of the clearance.
22' That's Süle's night done. He hasn't shaken off that earlier knock and limps off, making way for Rüdiger.
20' Germany probing here as Emre Can hopelessly overhits a pass intended for Julian Brandt.
15' Germany completely dominating this, as you might expect. Having said that, Azerbaijan have responded well to going behind and are not sitting back.
12' Almost a shock equalizer for Azerbaijan as Almeida sneaks into a shooting position, but steers his shot just wide.
8' GOAL! Germany 1-0 Azerbaijan - Goretzka scores! It's a superb finish by the Schalke man, who back-heels a loose ball into the net from close range after Garayev let the ball bounce off his shins. A well-improvised finish that the visiting keeper Agayev didn't see coming.
6' Süle has taken a hit and stays down, but gets to his feet without requiring treatment.
4' Sane is wandering from flank to flank at the moment. Causing Azerbaijan some problems with his speed and trickery.
2' Azerbaijan starting well with Berndt Leno forced into a save, but the flag was up.
1' Kick off! We are underway in Kaiserslautern.
So 18 months after it began in Azerbaijan, Germany's qualification campaign for Russia 2018 ends against the same opponents, this time in Kaiserslauten.
With qualification assured there are really two major storylines tonight. The first is Germany's quest for a perfect qualifying campaign and 10 wins in 10. The second is the chance for some of those players who aren't first choice to force Joachim Löw's hand.
Leroy Sane, Julian Brandt, Lars Stindl, Emre Can and Bernd Leno are among those who start tonight with something to prove. The Germany team are below and kick off is at 20:45 CEST.